The trial for three people charged with leading immigrant smuggling rings is underway in a federal courtroom in Houston. The defendants are charged in connection with the smuggling attempt that resulted in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants in the Victoria area.
Jurors heard opening remarks from the prosecution during the first day of the trial, but the defense did not make opening statements. Victor Sanchez Rodriguez and his wife Emma Sapata Rodriguez are each charged with 60 counts of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. They are also charged with two counts of transporting a three-year-old boy who was riding in a car. Emma Rodriguez’s half-sister Rosa Sarrata Gonzalez is also charged with 58 smuggling counts. The three are suspected of running at least one smuggling ring.
The prosecution called several witnesses today to testify about the scene of the crime. A sheriff’s deputy, a medical examiner and a paramedic were among the witnesses called to the stand.
Prosecutors questioned them about the scene surrounding and inside the abandoned tractor trailer. Jurors were shown graphic photos of the dead bodies while the Victoria County Sheriff’s Deputy Roman Goodwine described the scene where he found the bodies piled inside the trailer and on the ground outside. Goodwine said the bodies were piled four and five deep, many of them wearing no clothes except for underwear. One juror appeared to be upset by the pictures by and testimony.
Prosecutors will continue their case on Monday and then the counsel for the defendants will call their witnesses.
Nineteen immigrants, including one child, died in the tractor trailer in May of 2003. They died of suffocation, hyperthermia and dehydration. More than 70 people were packed into the trailer for transportation through South Texas.